DACs on DACs on DACs?

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I’m kinda fascinated by the DAC discussion, specifically the fact that many of us own more than one DAC, each with its own apparent strengths and optimal applications. It’s got me wondering: Are two DACs better than one? Are three DACs better than two? How many DACs does one person need to lead a happy, satisfying digital-music life? Would you consider multiple DACs from the same manufacturer or do you prefer to own DACs from different manufacturers?

BTW, I’m curious about these things as an audio enthusiast, but also as a representative of AudioQuest, manufacturer of the DragonFly.

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There’s a strong case for splitting a $1000 DAC budget (say) between TWO models and then switching between them when the desire for something new strikes hard. This split thinking could also apply to speakers, amps, headphones etc.

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Great question. I can only answer hypothetically since I get to listen to lots-O-DACs as part of the day job.

Hypothetically, I like the idea of having more than one system. Main room and desktop for example, which will necessarily be very different. And…in the desktop system, I like to use a portable DAC, I use the AQ DragoniFly Red, so that I can take it on the road.

I would image if I was on the road more often, I’d lean toward a dedicated travel DAC (like the Chord Mojo).

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SM,

Ok so I make basically 3 dacs and designed the DragonFly’s for AudioQuest. I also helped design many others in the field, some more design, some software only.

My 3 dacs all sound pretty different. It’s like a fine acoustic guitar. You have the parlor which is totally tonally balanced, but is not overly dynamic. Then you have the OM model which is a little more dynamic and made for more finger style. Then you have the Dreadnought fully dynamic and big in presence.

I have customers who have tube systems and solid state systems. They love to hear the differences and the detail of each.

Then there are customers who have a main system and X# of smaller systems.

Or customers who have a summer place system and then a main home system.

… and yes yes those who just have one system and many dacs.

Thanks,

Gordon

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Depends what your interpretation of audio/listening to music is. imo there is never a best or better approach. If you have 5 audiophile approved albums of women voices and you listen to them through your 150k turnkey, major magazine approved rig assembled by your dealer then this is also as ok as the guy soldering away on yet the next iteration of this yet next circuit he wants to test or anywhere in between.

And yes, i like to change things and experience different takes on musical presentation. For me, multiple systems (which also need multiple sources), but all within my envelope of musical enjoyment (which then excludes a lot of manufacturer/approaches). But other want to have one system which works and then not worry/tinker about any gear.

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Hi SM,

Really interesting question. After reading it and taking a look I realized I have a total of 6 dacs, two are from W4S and two from iFi audio. One of the W4S dacs is fairly old in electronics years (pre-dsd) and is used in a Linux exploration setup I have in my workshop. One of the iFi’s is currently not being used and the other 4 are connected in four different systems. I tend not to swap dac’s in systems after I have determined which I like best in each system.

Even though I have multiple dacs by the same manufacturers I’m not wed to the idea of sticking with one or two manufacturers, I’m not against it either. For me both W4S and iFi have what I’d consider a house sound based on having heard different dacs at different price points from each company. In the past I’ve also owned dacs by Cambridge Audio, Schiit & Korg.

In my most recent dac purchase, last September, I specifically wanted to try a variety of different dacs, other than W4S or iFi, that used different chips and/or implementation. I was able to audition dacs from 4 different manufacturers in my home. I ended up buying one of those 4 as I thought it had the best sound for the system I use it in. If I had thought none of the 4 sounded better than either W4S or iFi I probably would have gone with another W4S.

The criteria I use in selecting a dac for a particular system, beyond the sound, are different for each system. For my desktop setup I needed a dac that was fairly small, had it’s own power, had both balanced & unbalanced outputs, did dsd to at least 128, had a volume control and was under $500. For my headphone setup I needed a dac that did dsd, had balanced outputs, was small and cost under $200.

Regards,

Mario

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One of my DACs is just for the Raspberry Pi to get around USB limitations but the others I was curious about AudioQuest, Schiit, iFi and non-oversampling DACs sounded like.  Unlike speakers I could live with just one DAC but I haven’t found it yet.

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I guess it would be fine to own different DACs in a “good” range: A good DS-Dac, a Ladder, a NOS, maybe with or without FPGA sort of this.

Hard questions. I guess there are not many “fits them all”-Dacs.

It can be a hard time to play around, oversample, switching inputs, comparing just to get a feeling for a different (mostly not worse or better, just different) sound.

It rather a question of the personal mindset: am I willing to play with my gear all the time, or play music?

I own five or six DACs right now (small and bigger, not really expensive stuff) – but honestly a single QUTEST or the “build in” DAC in a device like the Atom would be OK and nobody would miss a thing around here.

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For me personally, budget is the biggest concern here. I’d far rather own one really, really good DAC than several less expensive, lower performing DACs. As good as low priced DACs have become, I can’t imagine the variation in sound signature justifying the loss of sheer quality if I were to divide my budget to purchase additional DACs.

With that said, I’m possibly about to buy an additional portable DAC – perhaps the Audiolab Dragonfly Black or Cyrus Soundkey – for listening to music at work, as the sound that comes out of my work laptop is quite awful and I’m fortunate enough to be able to afford something like one one of those DACs.

For what it’s worth, I’m unlikely to ever use a separate DAC with my mobile phone.

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Since CDs arrived in the 1980s, I’ve tried every player, dac, and black box I could afford that wouldn’t leave me with satisfied-unsatisfied upgrade-itis. When I bought and settled in with Yggy in 2015, that ended, and I just plain listened through nearly every album I sent it.

So it’s the foundational component on my head-fi desk, and other than a Dragonfly for travel, that’s it.

For different flavors and seasoning, different cans will do it.

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